Convicted torturer appointed peacekeeper in Kuwait

May 22, 1991

A convicted kidnapper and torturer has been appointed as a member of the Fiji Army's seven-member United Nations observer team in Kuwait.

Last October 24, Captain Sotia Ponijiasi led a team of soldiers that kidnapped and tortured one of Fiji's leading human rights campaigners, physicist Dr Anirudh Singh, the Chairperson of the Group Against Racial Discrimination.

Ponijiasi and four other soldiers were convicted in November of abduction and grievous bodily harm but given 12 month sentences suspended for 15 months and a fine of F$340 each. The light sentences drew public criticism.

Dr Singh said during a recent visit to Sydney that the "United Nations forces in the Middle East are forces for peace. It seems to me to be totally inappropriate for Fiji to be sending someone there who has been convicted of such brutal crimes against those who dare to campaign for civil rights.

"Given Captain Ponijiasi's past actions, which are tantamount to terrorism, I am concerned that he may repeat his actions and so bring disrepute to Fiji in Kuwait.

"I imagine that the United Nations are unaware of Ponijiasi's convictions for it seems contradictory that the UN could agree to employ such a person, who is still serving his suspended sentence for a violent politically motivated crime."

Singh passed through Australia on his way to Britain. His departure from Fiji was hampered by the regime's insistence that he provide a F$5000 bank bond and a F$5000 surety before he leave. Singh said that such sums in Fiji are hard to come by and the conditions almost denied him the right to travel.

Singh and six other human rights activists have been charged with sedition for publicly burning a copy of the regime's new racially biased constitution. — Fiji Independent News Service

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